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Political beats

Filastine’s activist groove
By SUSANNA BOLLE  |  October 1, 2007


Don’t let the name fool you: producer/DJ Grey Filastine is a sophisticated and well-heeled sonic traveler. It’s just that his area of expertise is the rhythm and texture of street culture, shorn of the refined trappings of traditional high art. His dense, politically charged mixes are a rich, cross-cultural stew of field recordings and samples collected during his extensive travels, drawing heavily on North African, Indonesian, Spanish, and Brazilian music, the subterranean bass of dubstep, and the jagged rhythms of jungle and hip-hop. This Monday, October 8, the Barcelona-based Filastine will make his second visit to Boston. The last time he passed through, he was hobbled by a broken leg, but this time he’ll be at full strength, performing at the Beat Research weekly at Enormous Room alongside the night’s resident sonic adventurers, DJ Flack and Wayne & Wax.

Filastine’s music has intertwined with activism and street politics. He began as a percussionist in ¡Tchkung!, a stridently anti-capitalist, avant-rock ensemble based in Seattle. He then went on to found the Infernal Noise Brigade, a 20-plus-member drum corps that provided the propulsive, polyrhythmic soundtrack to street demonstrations around the world including the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle and the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. It was while still active in the Infernal Noise Brigade, which disbanded in 2006, that he began to experiment with live electronics, incorporating sounds from the recordings he’d made and the cassettes that he’d picked up in street stalls and bazaars around the world.

“There was kind of a long cross-fade between the Infernal Noise Brigade and the Filastine work,” he explains by cellphone from a mesa in a New Mexican desert, in the midst of a self-described off-the-grid DIY residency. “As I was doing the drum corps, I was satisfying other urges by working with electronic music. They complemented each other really well, because one is really visceral — you’re working with a lot of people and there’s a lot of community — and the music I’m making as Filastine is generally just me and a pile of electronics.

“In some ways they’re total opposites — with the Infernal Noise Brigade we were taking the beats to the streets, and with Filastine I’m bringing the streets into the nightclubs. At the same time, the same rhythms, internationalism, borderlessness, and politics are involved in both projects. They share the same æsthetic, but they involve a different technique and, let’s say, a different directionality.”

His first full-length, Burn It, was released in 2006 on Soot Recordings, a label run by DJ /rupture (and home to musical co-conspirator and fellow traveler, Maga Bo, who will play Enormous Room on October 15). It was a heady collage of styles and rhythms, shifting from exultant Brazilian funk to plaintive Moroccan melodies without dropping a broken beat. And though his production skills are deft, there’s no polished-countertop sheen; Filastine lets the textural grain of the original sources seep through. His more recent mixes have had a dark Andalusian pallor — you can check out one of his latest (and finest) sets at the Blentwell Web site. Filastine, who now lives in Barcelona full-time, describes his next release, a 10-inch on the Community Library label, as “heavily influenced by Spanish music, dubstep, and death.”

In his live shows, he exhibits a sharper edge than on his recordings, and his set-up leaves lots of room for improvisation. An avowed “laptop Luddite,” he performs on a laptop and a variety of percussion instruments, using midi drums to trigger samples and playing a shopping cart rigged with a contact mic — and thereby riffing on consumerism. But though his music is political, it’s not necessarily didactic. “I try to make it easy to understand without using words. I don’t want to sit there on a bullhorn during my set telling people my politics or why I feel the way that I do, but I do want to make it clear through the sounds themselves.”

FILASTINE + DJ FLACK + WAYNE & WAX | Enormous Room, 567 Mass Ave, Cambridge | October 8 | 617.491.5599

  Topics: Music Features , World Trade Organization , Republican National Committee
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